Nettwerk Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/07/2000
It's been an interesting few months. Normally, I start getting Christmas music CDs to review around the first of September - and if I'm not in the holiday spirit in early December, I sure am not ready to listen to "Deck The Halls" before Labor Day.
No, this year has been much more balanced, with holiday discs coming at a time when I am more prepared to handle the mood. And one such release which just hit my inbox recently, Christmas Songs from the Canadian label Nettwerk, could well be the best collection I've heard of the bunch.
Some of these artists you most definitely know; some of them you've probably never heard of. One thing is for certain, though: by the time you're done with this disc, you'll probably want to know a lot more about most of these artists.
It would be easy to start things out by talking about Sarah McLachlan's contribution to this disc ("Song For A Winter's Night") or her jazzy collaboration with Barenaked Ladies ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")... but I'm not gonna do that. No, instead let's focus on the track which I was prepared to absolutely hate - and quickly became my favorite.
The artist? Meryn Cadell, who had a one-off hit in the States a few years back. I have her CD Angel Food For Thought, and absolutely hated it, so I saw no reason why I'd like "The Cat Carol". Boy, was I wrong. This is tenderly sung, and the tale of unbelievable sacrifice during the holidays actually had me in tears. If this song isn't a classic in time, I'd be surprised. Well done!
Likewise, some excellent performances are turned in by Matthew Ryan ("Little Drummer Boy"), Kendall Payne ("O Come O Come Emmanuel"), Tara McLean ("Winter Wonderland"), Dido ("Christmas Day") and, with a nod to older times, Mediæval Bæbes ("Gaudete"). It's almost as if these artists took the stance that they were going to craft these versions to capture the spirit of the flavor, and to hell with being commercial. It works, and it works well.
Disappointments? I found but two. This one is just a personal preference, but I would have preferred to have heard Jenifer McLaren sing "Ave Maria" in Latin - despite the fact I don't remember anything despite two years of Latin in high school. (I'm still going to get even with my guidance counselor for talking me out of taking Spanish.) And while I like the overall sound, Delerium really doesn't seem like they fit the Christmas mood with "Terra Firma".
Ah, and then we come to the album's closer - Stuart McLean and "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party". At first, I thought I'd be blasting the producers for hiding a track with about 15 minutes of dead air. But, no, this is a 23-minute spoken-word performance of an unforgettable Christmas party. And while I somewhat question its inclusion on a music-oriented album, McLean does manage to suck you into the story, and you almost feel disappointed when it ends.
So many Christmas albums come out each year, and every year a few get overlooked. Here's hoping that Christmas Songs is not one of those discs that gets passed up for the latest pre-processed teen-scene crapfests. It's not often I hear an album that seems to capture the spirit of the season; this most definitely is one of those.